- Do you mourn the loss of the Temple and sacrifices? Do you yearn for their restoration/rebuilding?
- To the extent that the "Destruction" relates to the loss of Jewish national sovereignty in the Land of Israel, do you see the State of Israel as any kind of rectification, or a "nechama" (comfort)?
- Do you focus on the loss of life, national/communal calamities? How much does the Holocaust figure in?
- Do you attribute anti-Semitism to internal Jewish problems? How much blame to you place on the actual perpetrators?
- How do you understand the "teshuva" aspect of Tisha B'Av?
- How do you relate to the traditional mourning customs - fasting, non-leather shoes, no unnecessary washing, no greeting people, no Torah learning, etc.? Do they help?
- What do you think of the Kinnot?
I'll offer a few of my own off-the-cuff responses.
The Temple... As far as past events, yes, the destruction of the Temple was absolutely devastating. It was our focal point as a nation, and its destruction marked the collapse of our society in Eretz Yisrael. In terms of current events, I'm appalled by the ongoing destruction of antiquities taking place on the Temple Mount. It's beyond me that a sovereign nation has to walk on eggshells regarding its own holy sites. And even though I don't know the resolution, I'm saddened by the fact that we're sitting in our own ruins - which is what the Kotel is. As far as a future Temple, on the one hand the idea of a "beit tefila" for all peoples is lovely. But even if "magically" the Dome of the Rock were to just vanish, and the entire world decided to "rally around the Jewish vision" (a fantasy which is as egotistical as it is completely crazy), I have to say I'm not particularly excited about the idea of everyone unifying over the idea of worshiping God together (as you might imagine). Besides, the whole "house of prayer for all nations" idea is patently false. The Third Temple would be like the Second Temple, which was about the daily and holiday sacrifices, and pilgrimages whose purpose was to have people bring sacrifices, first fruits, etc. And not "all people" but primarily and specifically Jews. (That's not even getting into the potential for religious politics in the Third Temple. Just think "Kotel" and magnify that by 1000. Also see what the Gemara has to say about the corruption in "good old" Second Temple times.) And I have absolutely no interest in reinstating sacrifices. Yes, if we're going to eat meat, then to "sanctify" it, to know what it means to take a life, is arguably a good thing - especially in our world of industrialized farming. So then educate people about it! But to restart a form of worship that's been defunct for over 2000 years? Why even go there? To me, the cessation of sacrifices is a silver lining in the cloud of the Destruction.
The State of Israel... I see it as a HUGE deal, a major rectification. Yes, there's the totally humanistic side of me which says, "Who needs lands and borders?" But that's the world we live in. We have attachments to places. And it's a very big deal that we have Jewish sovereignty in a place where we have such a major historical/emotional attachment. It's an amazing thing that we've put together a working nation here and have re-established our language and culture here. It's something we totally take for granted. So yes, as imperfect as it is, I see it as a profound reversal of the Destruction.
Loss of Life / Holocaust... For me, human suffering is the main focus of Tisha B'Av - and in this case, particularly Jewish suffering of incomprehensible proportions. And to me, that should include in the most central way, the Holocaust. I can't tell you how frustrated I feel to hear people brush off Yom Hashoah as some sort of "false" Jewish observance, since Tisha B'Av is the "true" time to mourn the Holocaust - and then we're lucky if the Holocaust even merits a Kinnah or two at the very end of the service. The Shoah is a disaster, a loss of life, a show of cruelty, a period of such intense suffering, on such a massive, industrial scale, and it's something which happened in the lifetimes of our own parents and grandparents! We can can go and hear people alive today tell their miraculous - and horrific - tales of survival. And yet, a great proportion of our own Jewish rabbinic leadership can't even get itself together to properly commemorate it?? Words truly fail me.
Anti-Semitism... We're an odd people who sets ourselves apart from others - that makes us targets. We excel, succeed, pioneer in so many areas - that makes us targets. We make the world feel guilty, we make them question themselves - that makes us targets. I don't think our "disunity" or "sins" are the magical cause of anti-Semitism. Yes, when we're "weak" (and disunity to an unhealthy degree can sometimes cause that), that can embolden our enemies and cause them to attack. Yes, when we do bad things, people hate us all the more. But I don't blame anti-Semitism on Jews in the sense that our misdeeds are the "cause" of it. That said, anti-Semitism can be used as an "occasion" for introspection. That's a very different thing. To me, that's a healthy - and indeed very "Jewish" - reaction.
Teshuva... Even though I don't believe that the Temple was destroyed "because of" sinat chinam, hatred among Jews, nor "because of" lashon hara, evil speech, again I do think it's a good "occasion" to focus on the way we treat one another. And not just as a "talking point" which everyone has to insert into their Tisha B'Av drasha, but something which people take seriously, as a matter of highest priority, for themselves, and in terms of the kinds of values they instill in their kids. This is something I aspire to achieve on this blog - to make it a healthy atmosphere for discussing ideas, even allowing for a good deal of "irreverence", but which doesn't devolve into pettiness and personal digs. There's enough misery in the world without wishing it upon people we disagree with. To me, that's an area which is ripe for teshuva.
Mourning customs... Whatever you want to say about the specific customs, they do imbue the day with a unique character which makes it uniquely "Tisha B'Av". And that has a role in and of itself. That said, there's nothing about wearing non-leather shoes which is remotely "mournful" (or even uncomfortable) other than the fact that we associate it with mourning. And I'm not the worst "faster", but it is a tough fast. Does not eating or drinking facilitate the "teshuva" process? Not sure. Sometimes I think it's a distraction from it. I guess I'd say that while I couldn't see a day of mourning where everyone simply ate as normal, I wouldn't mind if there were such a thing as a water-only fast, or a water-and-snack-only fast. Then you'd have there being a "difference" in the day, and a reminder of mourning, without making people suffer unnecessarily or putting them in a physical condition where they're unable to focus on what the day is about.
Kinnot... What can I say - sitting through endless Kinnot is a kapara in itself. It's kind of like when my wife asks me, "How was shul?" and I respond, "Well, it sure felt like a korban." Personally, I typically start Kinnot with everyone, then do my own reading most of the time, and then pick it up toward the end at some later point. Kinnot aren't my thing per se, but then again neither is "recitation" in general. Again, I'd like to see the Shoah figure in more prominently, if not in Kinnot then elsewhere.
One last thought... A friend of mine told me about a drasha he attended where the rav of the shul said we should be spending more time in the Three Weeks "mourning" and less time planning fun activities for after Tisha B'Av. My reaction: When you think about how many people walk around all year with sour expressions, when you think about the fact that it's not the happy people but the miserable people who commit crimes and cause other humans to suffer, maybe the road to teshuva and rectification is NOT about seeing how miserable and mournful we can make ourselves - but rather it's trying to seek out happiness for ourselves and others. How do we transform Tisha B'Av from a day of mourning to a day of joy? Maybe it's by cultivating joy.